You could be forgiven for thinking we knew it was the weekend - we didn’t. Especially not when you’re waking up so early as to have showered and feed yourself, all ready to go by 7:30, it to the My Son ruins about an hour or so out of Hoi An. We all piled into a bus and bid farewell to our tour guide for a couple of hours, as he handed us over to another tour guide specifically for this activity.
As it turned out, this tour guide was a wealth of information - not just on the ruins, but having grown up in the area and lived through the “American War”, he had many stories to tell, and we were just getting started.
The My Son ruins, deep in the hills around Hoi An, are the ruins of what used to be a village of Cham people. The Cham people were Hindu, and thus there were many statues of the Hindu god Shiva around. The ruins here predate the temples in Ankor Wat (we’re going there too!), and have something extra interesting about them: There is no cement or mortar between the bricks, so the result is that the bricks are very close together, and in some cases are indistinguishable from one another. Apparently nobody had been able to discover what was used to stick the bricks together. Reparations being done to the ruins had used some water resistant tree sap to achieve a similar effect.
Perhaps just as puzzling as the brick laying were the stone pillars - how did the Cham people move such large, heavy blocks of stone to their build site, let alone erect them for use in for frames, as the lintel, etc?
Disappointingly, over the years the ruins have been pillaged, with statues missing heads and arms, taken as prizes by thieves. But this is not the reason I call them ruins - most of these buildings were completely during the war, when the Vietcong took refuge there and American gunships laid siege. These ruins, and much more, lend a feeling of disgust towards Americans (if there wasn’t this feeling already).
On the way back to the hotel, our My Son guide told us all about his own story, living through the war, learning English and working as a translator for the American military, the re-education camps of the communist party, and then final steps until he became a tour guide. His English was excellent (although the Swiss girls may have had trouble understanding him), and I would recommend him to anybody. (Sorry, I can’t find a link to him, but have found a blog post of someone else who has had the pleasure of meeting this man and going on this tour.)
Once back at the hotel, I was starving. My partner was sick from the two bus rides, so I left her behind to nap and wandered back into the Old Quarter. On my wander I found a book shop, with a few books I was thinking of purchasing (especially given the prices). Wandering onwards, I saw the Swiss girls a few steps ahead on another road, and ran to catch up with them. With them feeling hungry as well (a couple of them didn’t have time for ballast before getting on the bus) we went for lunch at Morning Glory, definitely one of the best places to eat in the Old Quarter. Four spring rolls and a bowl of Cau Lau noodles later and I was fairly well sated. I went with the girls to blue eyes where they had their first fit for their dresses (which were lovely, by the way), then joined one of them who was shopping for joke gifts for the other two (something like they do on Top Gear, but much smaller and gifted after their trip).
Soon after I was walking home, intent on checking up on my sick partner. Not half a minute before I got there however did I receive a message from her, saying she and our flatmate were at Morning Glory, having a late lunch! About-turn, I head back into town, and find them outside a store looking a souvenirs.
We were due for our own first fits shortly, so we went into Yaly and found our sales people. As far as my own clothing went, I was fairly happy with the first cut, but a lot of work had yet to be done, and everything needed to be taken in. My compatriots had similar issues with fit, perhaps even worse. It’s quite something to stand around trying on clothes, having five different people looking at the clothes on you, with the occasional butt grab (unintentional, I’m sure).
On the way back to the hotel, I bought a set of chopsticks that I liked the look of, from a road side stall. These particular chopsticks have a lovely green ornamental end, which may be jade but I’d say would be more likely to be green glass. Back at the hotel my partner was still not feeling well, secondly not well enough to eat, so we left her to sleep some more, and headed back into town for dinner. Tonight we were doing something a little different - a cooking class. We all meet up and had a drink at Lantern Town before venturing further out into Hoi An, where the chosen coming class was being held.
Intrepid Travel, who we are traveling with, are all about responsible travel, and supporting good local businesses. For this reason we didn’t take one of the many cooking classes inside the Old Quarter, but to a local chef further out. This chef was very pleasant, had good English, and encouraged drinking while cooking.
We learned how to cook crispy pancakes, fish in banana leaf, green papaya salad and fried vegetable spring rolls. To top it all off, after cooking this delicious meal, we finally got to eat it. As a gift to us, the chef gave us recipes for everything that we cooked, plus some cooking chopsticks. More chopsticks for the collection!
After dinner we all called it a night, with some wanting to catch a taxi home. Unfortunately taxis were few and far between by this time, so we all ended up walking home together. My partner, I discovered, had slept the entire time, not even getting up to eat, so I tried not to disturb her too much as I got myself into bed, for a slightly longer night’s sleep than the last…